The day the first human heart was transplanted – level 3

03-12-1967

There was a terrible car accident in Cape Town on December 2, 1967. A 25-year-old woman and her mother were run over by a driver who failed to see them. The mother died immediately, but her daughter was alive and was taken to hospital with severe head injuries.

Sadly, by the time the young woman arrived at the hospital, she was brain dead. Her heart was beating, but she was dead because her brain wasn’t working. There was nothing the doctors could do to save her.

Her death, however, wasn’t in vain. Doctors explained to the woman’s father that they couldn’t save her, but her heart could help another patient. The father thought about it and allowed the doctors to transplant his daughter’s heart. The recipient was a 55-year-old man who was suffering from an incurable heart disease. A heart transplant was his only hope.

A team of thirty doctors, nurses, and technicians led by Doctor Christiaan Barnard performed the world’s first human-to-human heart transplant successfully. The recipient woke up after the operation and could even speak with his wife and reporters. Sadly, he died only eighteen days after the transplant.

The operation was an important moment in medical history, however. The heart, which in many cultures is thought to be the seat of great emotions such as love, was successfully transplanted. After the operation, people could begin to think that the heart was just another organ which could be fixed or even transplanted.

The postoperative care of recipients of transplanted organs got better and better with time. Today, the survival rate after heart transplantation is more than 85% after one year and about 69% after five years for adults.

Difficult words: severe (very bad), in vain (for nothing), recipient (somebody who receives – gets something), incurable (impossible to cure – make the disease go away).

What do you think about this day?

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